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The raw, two-color letters on the Black Lives Matter flag and the bright rainbow stripes on the Pride flag had flown over Massachusetts Catholic School for more than a year before. that the local bishop record his opposition.
The Black Lives Matter flag, Bishop Robert McManus said in April, has been “co-opted by some factions who also instill widespread distrust of the police.” And the LGBTQ flag could be used to contrast the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, he added.
When the Nativity School of Worcester did not move, McManus issued a stern decision. The free middle school, which caters to boys facing financial hardship, can no longer be identified as Catholic because the flags are “incompatible with Catholic education,” it said Thursday.
“The waving of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and outrageous message to the public about the Church’s position on these important moral and social issues,” McManus wrote. “Despite my insistence that the school administration remove these flags because of the confusion and the theological scandal that they do and can promote, they refuse to do so.”
That challenge, McManus said, left him with no choice but to strip the Jesuit-run school of its Catholic affiliation. Nor can the school celebrate Mass or the sacraments or use diocesan institutions to raise funds. He was not included in the list of Catholic schools in his diocese region on Thursday.
The decision, which comes during Pride Month, seems to be a rare case of a Catholic organization’s affiliation with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” becoming a hotbed with its diocese. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a nuanced approach to the phrase, supporting the concept of racial justice but not necessarily the organizations attached to that message. The Black Lives Matter movement is described as aiming to eradicate white supremacy and end violence against black communities.
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Nativity School said the use of the Black Lives Matter and Pride flags was in response to a call from its students, most of whom are people of color, to make their community more inclusive. The flags symbolize that everyone is welcome at the birth, the school president said Thursday.
“The two flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our family, friends and neighbors who have faced and continue to face hatred and discrimination,” wrote Thomas McKenney. “While any symbol or flag may be co-opted by political groups or organizations, hoisting our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”
The bishop disagrees. The Pride flag represents support for same-sex marriage and “an LGBTQ + lifestyle,” she said. And while the church teaches that all lives are sacred, McManus said the Black Lives Matter movement has used that phrase to contradict Catholic teaching on the importance of the nuclear family. (Black Lives Matter previously said on its website that it intends to “disrupt the Western-mandated nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families.” The page was taken offline.)
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Nativity said it will appeal the bishop’s decision, but has no plans to withdraw the flags, saying it shows its commitment to solidarity with its students and families. McKenney said the administrators’ decision was informed by the gospel, Catholic social education and the school’s Jesuit heritage.
The result follows months of dialogue between the school and the Diocese of Worcester. About the same time McManus argued with the flags in March, one person tore down both flags, the school said. Two months later, the bishop warned the school that he would lose the Catholic label if he did not remove the exhibitors.
Nativity School is not the only educational institution that has been stripped of the “Catholic” label. In 2019, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis told the Brebeuf Jesuit High School that she could no longer identify as a Catholic after she refused to fire a teacher who was in a same-sex marriage. The Midwestern Jesuit province said it would appeal the decision through a church process.
For Guillermo Creamer Jr., an openly gay student at Nativity School, the flags symbolize that Nativity includes the lives of blacks, a message he said is crucial in a school with mostly black and Latino students.
“For those young people who are witnessing what is happening in the country and seeing the Black Lives Matter flag flying, it’s a big problem,” he said.
Creamer, 27, said he hopes the bishop’s decision will somehow push other Catholic schools that align with Black Lives Matter or pro-LGBTQ messages to question whether this is acceptable. But he said it may not be all bad if he encourages Catholics to speak honestly about whether and how these causes fit into their faith.
In his letter to the community, McKenney reminded parents that Nativity School is funded by individuals and groups, not by the diocese, and would continue to function as usual.
Outside the school building, he noted, flags are still flying.